The great trial of Mr.
Burns’s life he bore as became a Christian. He did not abandon one
single thing with which “her blessed memory” was associated, and Wemyss
House continued, as it had ever been, a centre of holy influence, the
birthplace of friendships, and the scene of pleasant hospitalities.
After the death of his wife, Miss Ann Fraser, who, as a faithful and
valued familiar attendant to Mrs. Burns, had endeared herself to the
home circle by her long and affectionate services, became his
housekeeper, and throughout the long years of his old age gave to him
the best of her life, with its manifold gifts of tenderness and
The years, solitary in one sense, had in them no shadow of loneliness.
His son John was daily in and about the house, tenderly solicitous with
regard to everything that could contribute to his father’s happiness.
Mrs. John Burns entwined herself around the old man’s heart, and in all
things sought to till the vacant places there; his son James Cleland,
ever fertile in devising means for the gratification of his father’s
wishes, was a frequent inmate of the house ; while grandchildren
abundant vied with one another to bring the best of their powers to
brighten the declining years of one for whom they had an intense
affection, and who was to them the ideal of all that was beautiful in
Christian home life.
In 1878, Mr. Burns went up to London, and he says:—
The only invitation to dinner that I accepted on my visit to London, in
1878, was to Lord Kinnaird’s in Pall Mall. I was on very intimate terms
with him, so I wrote and said, ‘I’ll be very glad to dine with Mistress
Kinnaird.’ Kinnaird was a friend of forty years’ standing—an intimate
friend and frequent visitor. He used to say, ‘I never consider I have
come to Scotland, unless I come to stay at Wemyss Bay.’
The last time I saw Kinnaird was at Ferntower, where Jamie lived, in
Perthshire. He had come from Rossie Priory, and had brought his daughter
Emily to see me. Lady Kinnaird was not able to undertake the journey. He
very much wanted me to go to Rossie, and I could have gone, as I could
now, as far as travelling is concerned, but visiting does not suit me.
After luncheon, Kinnaird and 1 sat together on the lawn. He was very
frail, and he put his hand in mine and held it there. ‘Look at these old
fogies,’ said the grandchildren as they saw us there. But it is a
pleasant memory. About a year after that he died.
We do not propose to follow in order the years as they passed, hut
rather to look at the fruit they yielded.
Although the shadows of life were lengthening, Mr. Burns seemed
sometimes to be quite unconscious of the fact. Thus, in 1882 he became
one of the Vice-Presidents of the Prayer Book Revision Society.
It was only when he was unable to attend the meetings that he retired
from being President of the Glasgow Continental Society, although still
continuing to take an interest in it; and at the same period he
requested the Directors of the Magdalen Institution to accept his
resignation as one of the Vice-Presidents, but they unanimously begged
that he would allow his name to remain, to which he cheerfully
consented, there being no onerous duties connected with the office.
Much of his time was taken up in correspondence, and many of his letters
were full of life and humour. We select two as specimens. His son, Mr.
J. Cleland Burns, had given evidence before the Scottish University
Commission, and announced the fact in a telegram. Mr. Burns replied:—
My dear Jamie,—Your telegram received reminds me of what your
grandfather used to say of a minister who, on coming down from the
pulpit after having sorely belaboured himself into perspiration—his
performance being nevertheless much to his own satisfaction—was, greatly
to his discomfiture, accosted by an elder, thus: ‘Hech sir, ye must be
mightily relieved by getting such a quantity of flummery off your
The following was written in his eighty-sixth year
1, Park Gardens, Jan. 81, 1881.
My dear Jamie,—When I received from you this morning a registered
letter, I anticipated finding something very valuable, instead of which
I found only a cork, and bad results connected with it. I sent it
downstairs at breakfast-time to Mr. Wood. He said it was not a worm, but
a small minute beetle with long proboscis and wings for flying—the
little creature that bores the small holes seen in old wooden furniture,
and called worm-holes.
I not only have lost Madeira, but fine rich port which I got from old
James McCall, in Wilson Street, some forty years ago. . . .
What do you think of Wood telling at the dinner-table last night that he
and his children ate and were very fond of rat pie? He said the rat was
a cleanly and dainty-feeding animal! As for horse-flesh, it was
excellent. I might bring myself to eat horseflesh, but not rat. Let the
rats be taken as they are in Paris, for skinning to make gloves. I
believe in the siege they were eaten.
An old man himself, Mr. Burns loved old men, and sympathised with them.
It is a curious thing that, so far as we are aware, no hook has been
written on old age. It was Longfellow who said, “I venerate old age; and
I love not the man who can look without emotion upon the sunset of life,
when the dusk of evening begins to gather over the eye, and the shadows
of twilight grow broader and deeper upon the understanding.” It is quite
true, as Madame de Stael once wrote, that “it is difficult to grow old
gracefully,” but there are many who have overcome the difficulty, and
with them “their last days are their best days.”
Surely there is nothing more beautiful than to see old age satisfied
with its solitude, pleased with its tranquil enjoyments, and resting,
serene and dignified, on the confines of two worlds; looking back with a
calm satisfaction on a well-spent life, and looking forward with a
well-grounded hope for a better life to come.
Let us cull here a few specimens of Old Lives—of men who were friends
and compeers of Mr. Burns, to whom they opened their hearts without
Thus, in 1882, his old friend Dean Close, when very near the end of his
long life-journey, wrote to him and enlisted his sympathies in the Hugh
MacNeile Memorial—the founding of a Biblical professorship in St. John’s
Hall, Highbury. He says :—
I am anxious to finish this work before I die. God has graciously opened
my lips once more to declare His truth as well as an old man of
eighty-five can do; as the excellency of the power is not of us, but of
God, we may leave results to Him. I am still carried upstairs, and I can
walk but little. I think one of my head attacks will probably release
me. But His holy will be done.
These were the good Dean’s last words to his old friend, who replied:—
Both of us are now far advanced on the voyage of life. I am nearly two
years ahead of you, and when formerly I used to be crossing from
Folkestone to Boulogne with those I loved, and lying prostrate on deck,
unable to lift my head, they would say to me,
‘We see now the French land;’ and by and by would add, ‘In half an hour
we shall be inside the harbour of Boulogne.’ You and I are now coming in
sight of Emmanuel’s Land, and soon shall see Him, who is the Lord of the
inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away,
reserved in heaven for us; we shall see Him and be like Him; we know not
what we shall be, but we can trust that He will arrange everything for
us in the right way. . . .
Three years ago I had a very severe illness which lasted a whole year,
beginning with gout and ending with jaundice. It pulled the strength out
of me, but, although my walking powers, like yours, are impaired, God
has been pleased to restore me to most sound and perfect health
otherwise. For two winters past I have been able to go to my house in
Park Gardens, where John and his wife and family live with me during my
stay. Good health is at all periods of our life a great blessing, and
'fair health’ is an especial comfort in advancing years.
In 1882, on the anniversary of his eightieth birthday, Colonel Gardner
wrote to his old friend for the last time. There is something
exceedingly touching and beautiful in this friendship of a long life,
and in the letter, from which an extract is given below, there is a
charming naivete in their mutual confidence :—
19, Kensington Place, Path, Oct. 18, 1882.
My ever dear old Friend,—Thanks many for your budget, and especially for
your letter. It is well, in all cases, to be brought face to face with
Divine truth, and in your remarks regarding our mutual condition, I felt
it was well to be reminded of Jesus and His unfailing love, and that all
things are working for our eternal good. It is very natural to feel cast
down and depressed in our reduced and failing health, and we are prone
to forget the loving Hand that guides and governs all. This I feel, too,
often. How good, at such a season, the voice of a dear friend as in your
letter. Jesus knows, and is only trying our faith to prepare for the
higher good in His own perfect way. . . .
I am surrounded by good people here who speak with such surety of
possessing eternal life now;—certainly an experience I do not possess. I
have hitherto stood afar off and beat upon my breast, and cannot speak
as they do. I know Jesus died for all while in our sins, and through
this I hold as a reason that my sins are put away and my hope for divine
life rests in Jesus’ sake. . . . What is your real feeling, dear friend,
on this all-important matter? Pray do tell me.
The letter then passes on to current topics, and concludes:—
Our Father will not forsake, but will show his tender pity and love, and
we can only wait and admire the loving-kindness and goodness of the
Lord. Truly God is good to every one!
Strengthen my hands, dear old friend, by prayer and wise counsel, which
I feel God has richly bestowed on you, and believe me,
Ever your constant and loving old friend,
It is the trial of old age to see friend after friend depart. But it has
its compensating aspect, as the Rev. Dr. William Blair pointed out when
returning a letter to Mr. Burns in August, 1883. He says:—
The letter of Admiral Ingram I return with much pleasure. What a host of
noble Christian men you know, besides the great gathering in the Upper
House who will welcome you on your arrival home. What a blessing to have
the friendship of the best of earth, and what a prospect of meeting the
best in heaven. . . . You will observe that Dr. Moffat has reached the
sunny shore at a very advanced age. He will doubtless have re-joined
Livingstone long ere this, and had much to tell of the good cause.
The letter of Admiral Ingram, alluded to above, after acknowledging
“Selections from Leigliton, by Dr. Blair,” adds:—
My poor messmate and old friend, Crawford Cafun, has gone to his long
rest. I am sure his would be a peaceful end—a good man, doing all he
could below to win a crown above. I often wish we could meet again ere
the command comes to join the ranks of the great multitude. I am now in
my eightieth year. . . . Goodbye, my dear old friend, and may God bless
Another old friend, writing about this time, says:—
There is no satisfaction except in spiritual service. With life closing
in, and the shadow of the judgment seat looming in the distance, every
act of duty becomes increasingly solemn.
Admiral Sir James Crawford Caffin died in May, 1883; a peaceful end,
spared from every suffering, and with all his children around him.
Two years before, he had written to Mr. Burns to announce the death of a
mutual friend, Sir Duncan Macgregor, the father of Mr. John Macgregor
(Bob Roy), whose wife was the daughter of Sir Crawford Caffin. He says:—
I want to tell you of dear Sir Duncan’s last moments. He had always and
often told me, when speaking of his end, that although he did not wish
to dictate to God how he should die, yet, if it were His will, he prayed
that it might be sudden, without any death-bed scenes, and that he might
be ever kept in a state to meet Him. Well, in our dear friend’s case,
God fully answered his prayer, for if ever a man was kept waiting for
His call, it was he. His was not a death, but a sudden translation from
death to life. I was with him twenty minutes before his departure, and
the last to clasp his hand or speak to him. He hailed me as usual,
‘Well, my dear friend, how are you?’ And on my replying ‘I need not put
that question to you, for you look better than ever’—‘Yes,’ said he,
‘thank God it is so.’ We had a little talk about heavenly things, and
then I said I would come again to-morrow. He then said, ‘Good-bye,
good-bye; God Almighty bless you,’ and I left. Twenty minutes after,
Colonel Brooke came to me and said that the soul of the dear saint had
taken its flight.
Commenting on this letter, Lord Shaftesbury wrote to Mr. Burns :—
Sir Duncan was a grand venerable patriarch, worthy to rank, in the sight
of God and man, with the best of ancient days.
Old age is healthy when it lives mainly in the past and the future, and
this is the characteristic of most of the veterans who were cotemporary
with Mr. Burns. And when they set sail to the far-off land, it was
without misgiving that they bade one another, not a last adieu, but an
cut revoir, discussing meanwhile their prospects and their hopes with
the calm assurance of men who have proved the faithfuiess of the God in
whom they had trusted.
Thus Mr. Burns’ old friend and “London Pastor,” the Rev. R. W. Dibdin,
writes in 1883:—
My dear Brother,—I must in my seventy-eighth year leave off calling
myself an old man, when you in your eighty-eighth are hindered from
writing only by gout in the hand. ... No doubt the saints will know each
other at the coming of the Lord, when ‘we which arc alive shall be
caught up to meet,’ &c., but I never saw any proof that they know each
other in the intermediate state. We shall not be ‘like Christ’ till He
comes again—in body, that is to say. We are like Him in spirit, and
shall never be any better to all eternity in that respect, for the
spirit which is ‘born of the Spirit’ is perfectly holy, and cannot be
more so, however the ffesh may lust against it. . . .
It was in 1838 I first saw you and your sainted wife. I was your guest,
and met Robert Montgomery at dinner, and preached for Baptist Noel’s
Society in his church. Montgomery was very lively, and called me ‘Mr.
Sobersides,’ to the amusement of Mrs. Burns. Who would think that
forty-five years have passed since then? It seems but yesterday, and you
as young as ever—nearly.
Ever yours affectionately, ,
R. W. Dibdin-.
Another old friend, the Rev. W. Ackworth, wrote in the same month of the
I see so many changes around me that I am kept mindful that the last and
most momentous of all changes cannot be very remote. To us, my dear old
friend, may it be to leave the dulness of our mortal nature for the
vivacity of a spiritual and endless life. Well-nigh forty years have not
obliterated the remembrance of the happy days when we strolled along the
beach at Dunoon, and walked to the House of God in company. It was a
very small and unpretending edifice, but it was consecrated by the
presence of the Chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls. Dr. Marsh and I were
the first occupants of its pulpit, as the present Bishop of Rochester
and myself of your more ornate and beautiful church at Wemyss Bay. Let
me hear how it prospers. ... If I were to resent all the misdoings of
our Episcopal heads, which, you know, the mitre has a tendency to
soften, I must long ere this have found a refuge in some other
community. As it is, I continup to help old Mother Church, with her many
infirmities, to the best of my ability.
In 1880, Mr. Alexander Beattie, in writing to Mr. Burns, with whom in
earlier years he had been actively engaged in Christian work in Glasgow,
You are my senior by almost ten years, but I am feeling the weight of
three score years and ten, and the ‘labour and sorrow’ of that age tell
upon me, but I am able to do some little work for our Heavenly Master as
well as other public duties. May he keep you and me faithful unto death.
Among some old letters I found the enclosed from your dear father,
received not very long before I went to India in 1829. I think you will
like to read it, and you can see how the light of Christian love and
hope shone on his closing years. May we be like him, and in due time
join his happy spirit in the realms above.
A year later, the Rev. Dr. David Brown, Principal of the Free Church
College in Aberdeen, in acknowledging a sketch of Mr. Burns’ life given
in one of the Glasgow papers, wrote:—
Who is there, I wonder, that should be more thankful than you for the
talents given you, to push your way from small beginnings to such
success as you have achieved, and such a position as you occupy; and to
add to that, to have been blessed with such physical vigour and mental
freshness, that at your great age you can survey the whole past of your
life, with wonder and gratitude to Him whom I know you have chosen as
your chief good and eternal portion, and at the same time enjoy present
life and the society of old friends, can read and write with ease and
freshness of memory. Well, dear friend, may your remaining time be as
before, and more abundant, and may you meantime with all these mercies
get humbler, saying with old Jacob, ‘I am not worthy of the least of all
Thy mercies, for with my staff I passed over this Jordan (or began life
from nothing) and now I am become two bands.’ For myself, in my
eighty-fifth year, T also ‘am a wonder to many,’ for I have no ailments
at all, and have not had for untold years, save that I hear ill, and see
ill—but what is that? I see to icrile with ease, and that I value
exceedingly. Last year I resigned my Chair, and so teach no longer, but
I am still, after thirty years, Principal of the Free Church College,
and take a lively interest in it; and besides a good deal of
letter-writing (for I have correspondents in the United States as well
as in England and Scotland), I write for the periodicals, and try to
give forth to my younger brethren some of the ‘wisdom’ which years
should teach. . . . And now, in closing, I honour you for the work which
you, and one or two with you, have done in providing tjospel services
for the Episcopalians of Scotland, in place of the stuff which the
Scotch Episcopalian body provides them with.
One of Mr. Bums’ many friends and correspondents was the Rev. Dr.
Macduff. They were in the habit of sending one another little tokens of
their mutual regard. Thus, in 1885, Mr. Burns sent to Dr. Macduff a
packet of Lord Shaftesbury’s letters to read. By a coincidence they
reached him when he was staying at Folkestone, on the morning after he
had been to see No. 12, Clifton Gardens, the house where Lord
Shaftesbury died. “I visited it,” he says, “very much as the pilgrims of
the Middle Ages would visit the shrine of some holy saint.”
In 1888, in acknowledging a letter of condolence on the death of his
wife, Dr. Macduff wrote :—
How wonderfully kind it was of you to write me so sympathetic and valued
a letter. You know, too well, what it is when the life and light of the
home goes out, but we both, thank God, can rejoice in ‘the hope full of
immortality.’ ... It is a supreme gratification that I can still claim
you as a true Christian friend.
A little later on in the same year, Dr. Macduff sent a copy of his
latest work to Mr. Burns. On opening the book, Mr. Burns alighted on a
passage which he said so exactly coincided with his view of God’s
dealings with him in his own life, that it would be impossible to tell
it in more apt words. The passage is as follows:—
How many sublime influences are at work in moulding our opinions and
purposes, and giving shape to our life-future!
Apparently, indeed, to ourselves, existence, with its thoughts and
schemings and surroundings, its hopes and fears, its complex and
contradictory movements and impulses, often appears like the child’s
kaleidoscope—a passive plaything, the sport of fitful and wayward
But not so. In the experience of most, there comes a time which brings
with it the retrospective assurance of design and order in the moral as
in the material world. No ‘fortuitous concurrence’ of the old
philosophy, no shuttle of ‘destiny,’ good or bad luck, weaving
capricious patterns; but a settled plan of the Great All-wise Artificer,
which, when viewed as a complete and harmonious whole, will evoke at
last the tribute of unhesitating lips—‘He hath done all things well.’
In acknowledging the receipt of the volume, Mr. Burns wrote :—
Wemyss House, May 9, 1888.
My dear Friend,—Your token of kind remembrance of me, entered my heart
immediately on its receipt. First the touching dedication to the Dear
Memory, and afterwards to the home feelings raised within me; many of
the fragments speaking words of wisdom and peace to me. The morning I
received the ‘Ripples in the Moonlight,’ I opened the book at page
seventy-two and seventy-three, not by design, and I will not say by
accident, but by purpose of God. Truly I can say many sublime influences
have heen at work, from my boyish years onward, to mould and shape my
future life. I say not in temporal things, blessings innumerable, but in
spiritual and eternal interest. Even when God, in liis infinite wisdom
and love, did not allow me to go wholly unpunished, but spoke terrible
things in righteousness, I could, years and years after the cloud was
lifted, see His meaning to have heen to save me from settling down to a
portion amongst things temporal, leaving out things unseen, but eternal.
I do indeed thank Him for all the suffering and darkness necessary in
the discipline of education for the future state of my existence In His
blessed Presence. I now should be sorry if any trial had been left out
to mar the fitting for hereafter. I thank my God and Heavenly Father for
all. I feel shy at entering into the General Assembly of the First-born
in Heaven, and as if I would brush through the nearest and dearest,
iiito the arms of Jesus, who will place me in my position, and order all
conditions for me then as now.
What more can I say but express my affectionate regard for you, and add,
in all sincerity, your friend,
Thank God for these cheery old men, with their hopeful words as they
hoist their sails and launch away for “the land that is very far off!”
If men, in this sceptical age, ask—and they do ask, “What can your
Christianity do? it is effete and played out,” surely we may point them
to men such as these, who, at the close of long lives, knew in whom they
had believed, knew the port to which they were sailing, and were ready
and willing to go forth from life to life, and from land to land, eager
to see the things which hitherto eye had not seen, or heart conceived,
but which they were confident the love of God had prepared for their
eternal joy. Lei the flippant agnostics bring forth a record from all
their annals of quiet confidence and holy joy equal to this, and we will
acknowledge that their creed is worthy of consideration.
But we must now look more particularly at the old age of Mr. Burns, and
not lose sight of him in the midst of his friends. Among many little
traits which indicated the exceptional preservation of his system, it
may he mentioned that at the age of ninety-four, he could read and write
without the aid of spectacles, and daily performed the critical
operation of shaving without the usually indispensable assistance of a
looking-glass! It was his custom to take exercise in his grounds with
uncovered head, and those who were privileged to witness him at such a
time will never forget the beautiful and touching picture of this
fine-looking old gentleman, with his plentiful snow-white locks exposed
to view, inhaling with evident relish the fresh breezes from the Firth
I drive about summer and winter in an open carriage (said the cheery man
about that time), and I have never been subject to colds. It must be
something constitutional in the family. My brother, who was a physician,
always drove about in his carriage without his hat, and never knew what
a cold was.
With most nonogenarians it is usual for the intellect and the senses to
become dull and clouded, and they gradually glide into a state of
senility and second childhood; but that was far from being the case with
Mr. Burns—his mind was clear, active, and acute as ever, and he employed
many hours of each day in the intelligent study of scientific and
religious works, taking also a lively interest in the doings of the
world around him. He retained in his own hands the management of his
financial arrangements, and frequently astonished those immediately
connected with him by his unfailing memory and the unerring accuracy of
His correspondence was very large, and yet he undertook it with the
relish of a young man, while his plain, firm handwriting was marvellous
for his great age.
Moreover, he entered into the current questions of the day with singular
keenness, carefully reading the Times every morning, and a mass of
periodical literature, religious and secular.
At times of great public excitement he was always eager for the latest
intelligence, for which the Castle of his son afforded exceptional
facilities, there being telephonic communication between his office in
Jamaica Street, Glasgow, and his library in Wemyss Bay—a distance of
thirty-two miles! A voice in Glasgow was thus able to speak through the
tube the very latest news of the hour, and whenever this was of
exceptional interest, it immediately found its way to Wemyss House.
An instance of Mr. Burns’ vigour is to be found in the fact that, at the
General Election of 1887, he journeyed from Wemyss Bay to Glasgow and
back the same day (a distance of over sixty miles) in order to record
his vote in favour of the Unionist candidate for his district. On
arrival at the polling-booth he was recognised by Dr. Cameron the
Liberal candidate, who came forward and shook hands with him, saying
magnanimously, “Long may you live, Mr. Burns, to come and vote against
me.” But a more striking proof of the extraordinary vitality of Mr.
Burns is to be found in the fact that, on the occasion of the laying of
the memorial-stone of the new Barony Church, Glasgow, in June, 1887, he
not only graced the scene by his venerable and kindly presence, but
imparted an additional interest to the proceedings, and delighted the
large assemblage of people, by the delivery of a highly entertaining
speech, tinctured throughout with much racy humour.
Although it goes over some of the ground we have travelled together in
the earlier chapters of this book, we venture to insert a portion of the
speech here as reported in the public press. He said:—
The first thing I have to do is to find an apology for speaking, and the
only true one is that there is no one here (as I believe) who has been
so long and so early associated with the Barony parish as myself. I
cannot indeed claim to be a son of the manse, for 1 was born in the
'Holy Land’; there not being then, any more than now, a manse for the
minister of the Barony parish. My father received in lieu thirty pounds
a year as manse money, and, like the Apostle Paul when in Home, he dwelt
‘in his own hired house’ in George Street. The tenements—one to the
front of the street, and one to the rear—were inhabited by the Rev. Mr.
Balfour of the Outer High Church, and by three other ministers besides
my father. This ecclesiastical conglomeration gave rise to the popular
name 2 Holy Land ’—and there, as I have said, I was born. Well do I
remember, when a boy, walking with my father up the Bell o’ the Brae on
Sabbath days to church, the little boys and girls making their bows and
curtseys as their minister—with his bands on, according to custom—passed
and smiled on them. Great changes in the manners of the people have
since taken place but, although society has altered, it has not lost its
respect and love for faithful ministers of the gospel. The old Barony
formed one of three churches under the same roof. Of the other two,, one
was called the Outer High Church and the other the Inner. The Barony was
in the crypt, and, however interesting from its quaintness and beautiful
carved pillars, it had many inconveniences as a place of worship. In a
survey held on one occasion, it was reported that in some parts the
sitters could neither see nor hear. This gave rise to the gibe of these
seats being called ‘believers’ seats’—as they had to take everything on
trust. If church buildings, were frequently quaint, so also was the
freedom between pulpit and pew. Shall I give you an instance which
occurred to my father? From necessity the pulpit was low, as any of you
who have visited the crypt must have seen. It was surrounded by a bench,
which I recollect was used specially as a seat of honour for the elders.
My father was assistant, and afterwards successor, to Mr. Hill, the
minister of the parish. On a day when my father was preaching, Mr. Hill
was sitting on the bench surrounded by his elders, one of whom fell
asleep, and gave audible signs of it. This, Mr. Hill thought, was a very
bad example to show to the congregation—so much so, that merely to
awaken him was not sufficient. He accordingly raised his tall figure,
and laid his hand on my father’s shoulder, and, pointing to the
unfortunate elder, said, ‘John, rebuke him' This was rather a queer and
embarrassing interruption to the sermon. Well, the Barony congregation
removed from the crypt to their new church, which may now be called the
old Barony, in the first year of the present century. Mr. Adam, the
architect, had a specimen of the Gothic before him in the cathedral, and
of the Grecian in the infirmary, and he thought it would be a fine
contrast to make the new church of the old Saxon style. In the contrast
he certainly succeeded, whatever we may think of the lines of beauty.
We come now to the present church, which rectifies the defects of the
one we have left. And here let me express warmly the hope that the
faithful services of your minister now before you may long be continued
in vigour. Thanks be to God, He has hitherto carried on a blessed
succession of true gospel teaching. My father removed from George Street
to live in a house he built on the Barony Glebe, and there the
foundation of Christian life was laid in me, and you may be sure the
Shorter Catechism was not neglected—and I revere its sound summary of
doctrine—but I had better say nothing of what I felt as a thoughtless
boy about ‘learning the questions.’ I now express my gratitude for the
goodness and mercy which have followed me all my life. My father in his
very old age was ever glad to see his friends, and to converse with
them, which he always did cheerfully—but in the midst of his speaking he
would insensibly glide off into prayer, and a constant reference was
made in it to joining the General Assembly and Church of the First-born
in Heaven. Let us have the same trust in Christ, and so be followers of
those who now, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises.
. . .
You will kindly excuse my having spoken so much of my father, but I
think it is not inappropriate to the present interesting occasion,
seeing that he was seventy-two years minister in the Barony—dying when
he was in his ninety-sixth year—and I am now in my ninety-second year.
Ringing cheers and a burst of applause, such as has rarely been heard,
followed the conclusion of the speech, which, although delivered in the
open air and before thousands of persons, was heard by every one, even
to the farthest outskirts of the crowd.